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Chairman Wicker Welcomes Czech Government Decision to Memorialize Lety Concentration Camp Site

Monday, August 21, 2017

WASHINGTON—Following today’s formal announcement that the Czech government intends to remove a pig farm on the site of the World War II concentration camp at Lety, Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker issued the following statement:

“This achievement is the culmination of decades of work on the part of survivors, human rights groups, members of the Helsinki Commission, and others. It paves the way for a dignified and appropriate memorial for the thousands of men, women, and children who suffered and died there.” 

In 1940, during the Nazi occupation of the present-day Czech Republic, a forced labor camp for adult male prisoners opened at Lety. In 1942, Lety was converted into a concentration camp exclusively for Roma of any age. More than 1,300 prisoners were held at Lety, and at least 326 people perished in the camp, including 241 children. In 1943, 540 people were deported in two mass transports from Lety to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Most were murdered there or in other concentration camps.

In 1973, the Czechoslovak communist government built an industrial pork processing farm on the site. After the fall of communism, the farm was privatized.

In 1994, the Helsinki Commission was made aware of the existence of a unique, surviving archive of original documents from the Lety camp and subsequently worked to secure the transfer of a complete copy of those archives to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).  The first copies of the Lety archive were hand-delivered to the USHMM by then-Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in January 1999; the final set of documents was delivered in March 2000. 

In a statement at the time, then-Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04) said, “The long process of transferring these documents has ended; a new chapter of understanding the Romani Holocaust has begun.”

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Commissioner Hastings identified a "three-fold role" governments can play in "combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance." First, elected leaders must "forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support." He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while "public denunciations and spirited law enforcement" are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they "must work in tandem with education." He concluded, "if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs." Commission Chairman Christopher H. 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  • Coerced Sterilization Investigated in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, on May 8, the Senate gave its consent to protocols providing for the accession of seven new members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I have supported Slovakia's admission to NATO and am heartened that the post-1998 democratic and human rights progress in Slovakia made the Senate vote possible. Slovak leaders continue to demonstrate in many concrete ways their commitment to the oftcited but not always visible "shared values" that are central to the trans-Atlantic community. I was moved to read that several Slovak leaders, including Speaker of the Parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, with whom I met last year, Laszlo Nagy, Chairman of the Parliament's human rights committee, and the Foreign Ministry have spoken out so clearly and strongly on behalf of the Cuban dissidents victimized by Castro's recent sweeping crackdown on human rights activists. At the same time, I have continuing concerns about the Slovak Government's ongoing investigation into allegations that Romani women were sterilized without proper informed consent. Mr. Speaker, I know these allegations are of concern to many members of the Helsinki Commission, one of whom recently sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing concerning the sterilizations. I also discussed the issue with Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora and Deputy Minister Ivan Korcok in March. Eight Helsinki Commissioners joined me in writing to Prime Minister Dzurinda to express our concern, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor, Lome Craner, commented on this abhorrent practice at his hearing on the State Department's annual human rights report. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's substantive and sympathetic response, and I commend his commitment to improve respect for the human rights of Slovakia's Romani minority. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by one particular aspect of the government's response to the reports documenting that sterilizations occurred without proper informed consent. Shortly after the release in January of a lengthy report on sterilization of Romani women, a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for human rights was quoted in The New York Times as saying: "If we confirm this information, we will expand our charges to the report's authors, that they knew about a crime for a year and did not report it to a prosecutor. And if we prove it is not true, they will be charged with spreading false information and damaging the good name of Slovakia." In other words, if the government's investigation does not find evidence of coerced sterilization, they intend to make those who dared make the allegation pay a price. And if the government's investigation does confirm the allegation, they will still make those who made the allegation pay a price. I believe this is what is meant by the old expression, "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't." This is really an outrageous threat, and it's hard to believe that an official responsible for human rights would have made it. Mr. Speaker, I had hoped that this was an unfortunate misstatement and not really reflective of the Slovak Government's policies. I had hoped that the fact that almost every newspaper article, from Los Angeles to Moscow, about coerced sterilization in Slovakia has mentioned this threat would lead the Slovak Government to issue some kind of clarification or retraction. Unfortunately, not only has there been no such clarification or retraction, but the threat has now been repeated--not once, but at least twice. First, in mid-March, the Ministry of Health issued a report based on its own investigation into the allegations. (A separate government investigation continues.) Naming a particular Slovak human rights advocate by name, the ministry complained that she had refused to cooperate with police investigators and this could be considered covering up a crime. Essentially the same point was made by Slovakia's Ambassador to the OSCE in early April, ironically during a meeting on Romani human rights issues. Mr. Speaker, these threats raise serious doubts about the breadth and depth of the Slovak Government's commitment to get at the truth in this disturbing matter. Can the Slovak Government really expect women who may have been sterilized without consent to come forward and cooperate with an investigation with a threat like this hanging over them? A few brave souls may, but I believe these threats have had a substantial chilling effect on the investigative process. In fact, it is not unusual for those whose rights have been violated to confide their stories only upon condition of anonymity. And while I realize there has been a very serious effort in Slovakia to improve the professionalism of the police and to address past police abuses against Roma, I certainly can't blame Romani women if they are unwilling to pour their hearts out to their local constables. Simply put, the police have not yet earned that trust. I hope the Slovak Government will set the record straight on this and remove any doubt that the days when human rights activists could be sent to jail for their reports is over. Doing so is critical for the credibility of the government's ongoing investigation.

  • The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

    Mr. Speaker, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) have just published a report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece. “Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece” documents the plight of the inhabitants of the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos, outside Athens, and details the problems of Roma across the country. Illustrated with stark scenes of bulldozed homes and marginalized and neglected Romani communities, a picture disturbing in more ways than one has been painted.   In particular, the report supports the accusation that the Government of Greece has used preparations for the 2004 Olympics as justification for the campaign to uproot Roma. Ironically, Greece currently holds the presidency of the European Union.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held hearings in 1998, 2000, and in 2002 focused on the human rights problems faced by Roma with the intent of raising the awareness of these problems amongst the governments of the OSCE participating States. The plight of the Roma has also been addressed in specific hearings or briefings covering Greece, Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Romania, as well as the OSCE process.   Members of the Commission have also sent several letters to Greek leaders in recent years addressing longstanding human rights concerns in the Hellenic Republic, including those affecting the Romani community. These expressions of concern have specifically addressed forced evacuations of Roma from numerous villages, the abusive application of the use of national identity cards issued to Roma, the inability of Roma children to have access to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and other matters of blatant racial discrimination.   This newly released report on Roma clearly indicates that the Greek Government has failed to properly address many of these ongoing concerns. At a June 2002 Commission hearing on Greece, in fact, I raised the specter of an intensified campaign targeting Roma to obtain land for use as venues for the 2004 Olympics. This campaign is well documented in this report.   Notwithstanding the assertions of Greek officials at the Commission hearing that “everything is done (concerning the relocation) in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Roma involved,” numerous non-governmental organizations have raised such issues with Athens. Greek human rights activists have stepped forward.   As an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Greece has accepted numerous commitments pertaining to the treatment of Roma and joined in condemning discrimination against Roma, a provision found in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document. Regrettably, the Greek Government has failed to fulfill these commitments, as documented in the new ERRC/GHM report on Roma in Greece.   The ERRC and GHM conducted intensive field missions that revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece: cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment of Roma in housing; police violence against Roma; exclusion of Roma from the educational system; and, barriers to access to health care and other social support services for Roma.   Based on the facts in this report and the discussions I have had over the years in my leadership capacity with the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Government of Greece to take corrective measures, without delay, along the lines recommended by the ERRC and the GHM:   1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma.   2. Use all appropriate means to guarantee protection against forced evictions outside the rule of law and without due process.   3. Bring to justice public officials and private individuals responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek law.   4. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse.   5. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.   6. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to education in a desegregated school environment.   7. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as called for in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Document.   8. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, and distribute in both the Greek and Romani languages.   9. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.   10. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.   The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the situation of Roma in the Hellenic Republic with the aim of encouraging the Government of Greece to implement commitments it has agreed to within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission will also work to ensure that the plight of Roma in Greece is raised at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held this fall in Warsaw.

  • Bringing Justice to Southeastern Europe

    Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey spoke on behalf of the Commission on the Yugoslav conflicts and its tumultuous impact on the development of post-Cold War Europe, as it exposed flaws in the United Nations and the European Union, whilst simultaneously inspiring the OSCE and NATO to act. The briefing addressed the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the understanding that justice must be part of a post-conflict recovery. The speaker – Honorable Carla del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 1999 – was responsible for ensuring that those individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in contemporary Southeast Europe were held accountable. She spoke of the limitations and successes of the Tribunal, referring to two decades of experience as a prosecutor.

  • Taking Stock in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the consolidation of democracy in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--I have followed events in Romania for many years. The Romanian people have survived the repression of a brutal communist dictatorship and, in the years since the fall of that regime, have made great strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the past.   Romania is a good friend and strong ally of the United States. I appreciate and thank the Government of Romania for its steadfast support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where a battalion serves on the ground, and for its support of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq. Romania has been offered the much sought after admission to NATO, and today the Senate began debate on the Protocols of Accession. Romania is also an accession candidate to the EU.   It is in the spirit of friendship that I continue to follow the human rights issues there, based on a belief that Romania will be a stronger democracy, and therefore a stronger partner, when respect for human rights is strengthened. Frankly, I am concerned that, following Romania’s invitation to join NATO, the reform momentum in Bucharest may have dissipated.   Mr. Speaker, I believe that there is no greater barometer of democracy than free speech and freedom of the press. While there is no doubt that the Romanian people have access to a broad range of print and electronic media, 13 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romanian law still includes communist-era criminal defamation provisions which impose prison terms for offenses such "insult" or "offense against authority." These laws cause a chilling effect on independent and investigative journalism and should be repealed.   Today, I received a letter from Foreign Minister Geoana, informing me that a new draft Penal Code would do exactly that. This is encouraging news, and I will follow this process closely with the hope that articles 205, 206, 236, 236 (1), 238, and 239 of the Romanian Penal Code will actually be repealed and not just modified.   Mr. Speaker, there is no international requirement that countries must make property restitution or provide compensation for confiscated properties. However, if a legal process for property restitution or compensation is established, international law requires that it be nondiscriminatory and be implemented under the rule of law. Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective, and the laws--which the government has enacted to address the problem--lack transparency, are complex, and have not been effectively implemented.   Restitution of communal property--for example, churches or synagogues--is especially difficult. In 1948, Romania’s communist government banned the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church and ordered the incorporation of the Greek Catholic Church into the Orthodox Church. More than 2,500 churches and other buildings seized from the Uniates were given to Orthodox parishes. The government decree that dismantled the Greek Catholic Church was abrogated in 1989, however, of the thousands of properties confiscated from Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned nearly 15 years later. The status of thousands of properties belonging to the historic Hungarian faiths (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Unitarian), and the Jewish community, as well as other non-traditional religions has not been resolved, despite the enactment of a communal property restitution law in July of 2002.   The restitution of private property in Romania is equally as murky. In February 2001, the Romanian Parliament enacted Law 10/2001, the express purpose of which, according to Article 1 (1) of the Law, is to make restitution in-kind of nationalized real property and, whenever such in-kind restitution is not possible, to make restitution in an equivalent consisting of cash for residential properties and vouchers to be used in exchange for shares of state-owned companies or services. This clearly stated principle has been undermined by so many exceptions that it becomes virtually meaningless. Those claimants who have overcome the numerous exceptions contained in the law have then been stymied by government recalcitrance when they have attempted to obtain the necessary documentation to support their claims. Many title deeds were purposely destroyed by the former communist regime. State archives, having been deluged with a significant volume of requests, complicate the process with chronic bureaucratic delays in processing property records, and seeming indifference to the urgency of those requests. The Government of Romania cannot expect claimants to file within prescribed deadlines, and then not provide them with the means to obtain the proof of their clams from the government’s own records.   Further, I am disappointed by the ineffective and inadequate attempts of the Romanian Government to register the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion. The inability of the government to make this happen is a serious concern, as it is more than an issue of legal personality, but also of rule of law, religious freedom and discrimination. In October 2001, I received personal assurances from Foreign Minister Geoana that this longstanding matter would be resolved; it has not despite a ruling by Romania’s highest court dating back to 2000. The Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs seemed to provide a fix in October of last year, but it proved faulty and failed to bring closure to this matter. Mr. Speaker, I urge the competent Romanian authorities to remove this issue from the agenda by facilitating the recognition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion without further delay.   Another matter which I hope the Government of Romania will bring to closure is the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews. Last year government officials publicly condemned efforts to honor Antonescu and removed from public land three statues that had been erected in his honor. One statue remains on public land in Jilava, the site of Antonescu’s execution, and important streets in the cities of Timisoara and Oradea continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.   Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to express my continuing concern about the Romani minority in Romania. I appreciate that Romania was the first country in Central Europe to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. This was an extremely important and positive step. But there appears to be a rising tide of intolerance against Roma, manifested by scapegoating of Roma in the media and in the statements of some public officials. In all likelihood, this climate contributed to the tragic events in Buhusi last December, when a number of Roma were shot during a police raid, including a 14-year-old boy who was reportedly shot in the back. I hope the Romanian Government will play a leadership role in countering prejudice against Roma and will continue to implement programs to address discrimination against them.   Protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, as well as commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and respect for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe norms and principles, are requirements for NATO membership. As a participating State of the OSCE, and as a candidate for admission to NATO, Romania has made that commitment. It is my hope, Mr. Speaker, that the Government of Romania will use this opportunity to strengthen its democracy, not retreat from it.

  • 10 Years of Remembrance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Mr. Speaker, today I want to pay special tribute on the 10th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. During the past decade, the institution and its dedicated staff members have worked tirelessly to promote remembrance of the Holocaust and to draw lessons for the future from this very dark chapter of mankind's recent history. When the Museum was dedicated and formally opened in late April 1993, this event culminated over 10 years of preparation that started in 1980 with the chartering of the institution by a unanimous Act of Congress. Recognizing the work of the Museum this week is very fitting, as it is the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for honoring the millions of Jews who died almost 60 years ago under Nazi tyranny. As set forth in its mission statement, the Holocaust Memorial Museum has become America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and is this country's memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Museum and its International Archives Project focuses on all individuals who suffered during the Holocaust, in addition to the six million executed Jews, the horrific Nazi treatment of millions of Roma, disabled, religious and political prisoners, and prisoners of war. The Museum plays a critical role in advancing and disseminating information, documenting the historicity of the Holocaust, while also preserving the memory of individuals who suffered. While insuring that the lessons of the past will not be forgotten, the Museum has actively and creatively developed ways to work towards a better future. The institution's dedication to dealing with the horrors of genocide, whether in Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda or Cambodia is a critical part of the effort to mobilize international action against this plague on all humanity. The Committee on Conscience plays a particularly significant role in bringing timely attention to acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity. The Museum has rightfully become one of Washington's most revered attractions. The hundreds of thousands of visitors who have toured the Museum since its opening have left with an unforgettable experience and the opportunity to reflect on the deep moral questions stemming from the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Museum's research center has served as a critical resource for scholars who try to help us better understand the lessons of this terrible chapter of human history. The creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has also encouraged other countries to move to establish comparable institutions including, most significantly, in Berlin, Germany. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has worked with the Museum on several occasions, from pushing for the release of documents from the Romani concentration camp in Lety, Czech Republic, to urging Romania to give greater meaning to its stated commitment of rejecting anti-Semitism by removing Antonescu statues from public lands. In response to the alarming spike of anti-Semitic incidents found last summer in Europe, myself and other Members of the Commission have been very active in urging governments and elected officials to denounce the violence and ensure their laws are enabled to prosecute the perpetrators. In support of this effort, I have introduced H. Con. Res. 49, urging, among other things, European states to "promote the creation of educational efforts throughout the region encompassing the participating States of the OSCE to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people, increase Holocaust awareness programs, and help identify the necessary resources to accomplish this goal." It is my hope that other countries will copy the unique and effective model of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Congress has designated April 27th to May 4th as "Days of Remembrance," when our nation will commemorate again the victims of the Holocaust. May we use this time of reflection that will reinforce our common determination to learn from history's harsh lessons.

  • Honoring Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel

    Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is sometimes called the “conscience of the Czech Republic.” In fact, he could be called the conscience of the world. As both playwright and president, he has set an example for his country men and women and inspired others around the globe.   As a Member serving on the Helsinki Commission, I first became aware of Vaclav Havel and his stance as a leader of the Charter '77 human rights movement. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison. In recognition of his extraordinary leadership and courage, the Commission leadership recommended him for the Nobel Peace Prize in February 1989.   Vaclav Havel once wrote of the “power of the powerless” and, on November 17, 1989, when the Velvet Revolution began, the world saw that power manifested in reality.   Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his remaining steadfast to his commitment to human rights even from the comforts of the Prague Castle.   From the beginning of his tenure, as he addressed his country's communist and totalitarian past, he was a voice of reason, not revenge. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” Throughout his presidency, he has pardoned those facing criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech and have yet to be repealed. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament's regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. He has raised human rights issues from Cuba to China. And, he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate.   H. Con. Res. 22 pays tribute to Vaclav Havel's singular compassion, integrity, and vision. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting a man who has given so much to his country and the world.

  • Helsinki Commission on Property Restitution Issues

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law On September 10, 2003, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a briefing to assess the status of governmental efforts to provide restitution of, or compensation for, property wrongfully seized in Europe under communist and Nazi rule. Ambassador Randolph M. Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, provided an update on developments since his participation in the Commission's July 2002 hearing on this subject. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) chaired the September 10 briefing, noting that "this issue will continue to be on our agenda until we accomplish the objectives of transparent laws in all of the states [and] fair and just compensation for the properties that were unlawfully taken during the Nazi and communist years." The Helsinki Commission has previously held three hearings specifically on these issues. In a related development, on October 13, Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Mr. Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) met with Polish officials in Warsaw to raise directly their concerns regarding Poland's failure to adopt any private property restitution or compensation law at all. Members met with Piotr Ogrodzinski, Director of the Americas Department at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrzej Szarawarski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Treasury, and Under-Secretary of State Barbara Misterska-Dragan. The Members reminded their interlocutors that President Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz gave their personal assurances to congressional leaders (including Chairman Smith) in a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in July 2002 that a private property law would be ready by the beginning of 2003. Notwithstanding this pledge, the Government of Poland has failed to submit such a law to parliament. In Warsaw, Members voiced acute frustration at continuing delays and urged the Polish Government to move quickly on this time-sensitive issue. Briefing Reviews Mixed Record In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Bell stressed that a number of measures must be in place for effective restitution: open access to archival records, uniform enforcement of laws, clear procedures, and provisions for current occupants of property subject to restitution. Uniform, fair, and complete restitution is necessary to establish the rule of law and to safeguard rights and freedoms in many countries, he noted. Ambassador Bell also suggested that restitution can facilitate reform and thereby help countries gain entry into multilateral institutions. Most OSCE countries working toward restitution are making slow but steady progress on the return of communal property, such as educational, church, and hospital buildings. According to Bell, some countries have nearly completed the return of such property, including Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. In other instances, returning property to its owners, or reimbursing them, is fraught with political obstacles. "While leaders may achieve our praise for facing these issues, they often gain little or nothing in the way of parliamentary support at home for doing so," Bell said. Speaking from the audience, one observer suggested that restitution often stalls when it becomes a political issue that leaders can manipulate and that economic challenges in restitution create further challenges. He added that politicians should speak more frequently and positively about their experiences restoring property to the rightful owners. "This is a part of the process of becoming an open democratic society, part of the family of Western nations," he said. Progress has been frustratingly slow, acknowledged Commissioner Cardin. The Commission has frequently encountered barriers to restitution, such as residency or citizenship requirements and management of funds under different domestic laws. "We have found that we have gotten commitments from the leaders of countries, only to find that those commitments are not really carried out," Cardin said. Another audience member expressed concern that the Slovenian Government has discriminated against American property owners, arguing that as foreigners, they were less likely to have property returned in Slovenia. Ambassador Bell noted that even when a court does rule in favor of a claimant, the Slovenian Government has the ability to appeal for a reversal. He said the State Department would continue to press for fair property returns in Slovenia. A few countries came in for particular criticism during the briefing. "I am following the advice of our chairman, Chairman Smith, when he says that we have to start naming countries and naming practices, because we cannot let this continue," Mr. Cardin said. "The current situation is not acceptable in Poland or in Romania or in the Czech Republic." Poland Poland has failed to adopt any law providing for private property restitution or compensation. In meetings with congressional leaders last July, visiting President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz gave assurances that a draft private property law would be ready by early 2003. The government has yet to submit a draft to the parliament. Ambassador Bell urged Poland to make good on its promises to return private property to its rightful owners. "To delay action will only make it more difficult to address this issue down the road," he said. Romania Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective. The laws enacted by the government to address the problem lack transparency, are complex, and have not been properly implemented. The law governing the restitution of private property was enacted in February 2001 and provided a one-year deadline for filing claims. Documentary proof of those claims was required to be submitted by August 2002. This deadline was revised several times and finally set for May 14, 2003, due to the fact that claimants were experiencing great difficulty in obtaining from state archives the necessary documents to support their claims. More than two and a half years after enactment of the restitution law, the government finally promulgated regulations governing the documentation necessary to support property claims--on May 14, 2003, the same day as the deadline for filing those claims. Of 210,000 claims registered, only 6,300 properties have been returned. Commissioner Cardin described one Romanian case that suggests the kinds of struggles involved with restitution. The claimant in that case had clear title to the property and had won multiple cases in court--but was still unable to regain the property because the government would not relinquish it. Ultimately, the property was returned because of the international publicity it generated. Czech Republic The Czech Republic's restitution laws limit redress for confiscated properties to people who are currently citizens of the Czech Republic. Prior to 1999, Czech law prohibited naturalized U.S. citizens from having dual Czech and American citizenship. In order to participate in the property restitution program, therefore, Czech-Americans had to renounce their U.S. citizenship and few, if any, Czech-Americans exercised this option. In other words, at the same time the Czech Republic was being welcomed into NATO, Czech Americans were uniquely excluded by virtue of their U.S. citizenship from the possibility of regaining properties stolen from them by Nazi or communist regimes. (Czechoslovak citizens who sought refuge in other countries--e.g., Canada, France, or Australia--were not automatically stripped of their Czechoslovak citizenship and were therefore eligible to make restitution claims.) Some Czech parliamentarians have sponsored legislation to remedy this injustice, but the Czech Government has consistently opposed it. Serbia Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, civil society has sought to advance a number of initiatives to address past wrongs, including property reform. While privatization is an important component of economic reform, there is concern that insufficient consideration is given to individuals seeking restitution of property they or their families owned prior to World War II. One observer from the audience noted that the International Crisis Group and others have reported that corruption may make the privatization effort in Serbia all the more difficult for those with property claims. Addressing this issue, Ambassador Bell asserted that corruption inevitably slows down privatization. In addition, he noted that, although the Serbia-Montenegro Government has said it will restitute property seized during communist rule, no law has yet been put in place to do so. "There is a gap between what the new democratic Government of Serbia said when it took office, and what has happened," he said. There are people in the government of Serbia and Montenegro who are serious about reform, but it is a difficult struggle, he added. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

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